In these strange and worrying times it’s important to look after all aspects of health. If we are healthy in mind, body and spirit we’ll be better prepared for whatever comes our way. Many of us are spending more time at home. For some people this means working from home, for others work has stopped for the time being but there may be child care to manage. For others it may be an opportunity to catch up with jobs around the house and garden, whilst staying in touch with friends and family remotely.
Whatever your circumstances here are some tips for staying healthy despite the lockdown.
Eat for Physical and Mental Health
Everyone knows that eating healthily is important for our physical health, but it also benefits our psychological well being. Foods that are good for our bodies are generally good for our minds.
Cooking from scratch is the healthiest and most economical way to eat so dig out those old cookbooks or look on line for recipe inspiration. With food shopping being limited this is a good opportunity to get into the habit of planning your meals. Cooking can be a fun activity that the whole family can do together. Or, if you live on your own, take the time to cook your favourite foods and make your meal times special. Aim for a healthy, balanced diet with plenty of immune-boosting foods. Here are some tips for how to achieve this:
Protein – is important for repair and maintenance of body tissue, hormones, enzymes and antibodies. Good sources of protein include meat, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, pulses, tofu and tempeh. Protein powders and protein bars can be useful additions to the diet.
Complex carbohydrates – these provide slow releasing energy as well as fibre, needed for bowel health and hormonal balance. Whilst those on low carb diets or keto diets may be largely avoiding carbs, for most people they are an important part of a healthy diet.
Beneficial fats – healthy fats are vital for a healthy brain, hormonal balance, bone health, and skin, hair and nail health. Good sources include olive oil, nuts, seeds, cold pressed oils and nut and seed butters.
Plants to the Rescue – fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains, beans and sea vegetables contain phytonutrients such as carotenoids, flavonoids and polyphenols. These have many beneficial effects including antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and immune supportive properties. They also act as prebiotics to support the gut microbiome. Aim to eat a variety of different colours to maximise the health benefits. Here’s how to eat the rainbow:
- Red foods – tomatoes, red peppers, radishes, watermelon, red grapefruit, strawberries, raspberries, cherries and red currants.
- Orange and yellow foods – carrots, squash, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, apricots, yellow plums and goji berries.
- Green foods – spinach, kale, broccoli, celery, courgettes, cabbage, watercress, lettuce and rocket.
- Blue and purple foods – red cabbage, red onions, beetroot, blueberries, blackberries and black or red grapes.
Herbs and Spices – these have many health giving properties including immune supportive and antioxidant effects. Herbs to include in your cooking are thyme, oregano, basil, parsley, mint, sage, rosemary and coriander. Spices with beneficial properties are cinnamon, ginger, cloves, garlic, cumin, coriander, turmeric and black pepper.
Support your gut - a growing body of research shows that the gut microbiome has a remarkable impact on our physical health as well as our mood and behaviour. Fermented foods such as kefir, yoghurt, sauerkraut, kimchi and miso are good sources of prebiotics and probiotics. Supplementing with probiotics is another good way to support gut health.
Drink Herbal Tea – hydration is an important aspect of health. Herbal teas can be both hydrating as well as providing immune supportive effects. Good herbs for tea include mint, sage, rosemary, ginger and lemon balm.
Nutrients to Support the Immune System – this may be a good time to supplement your diet with immune supportive nutrients. Nutrient deficiencies decrease immune defences, and increase susceptibility to infection. Nutrients that have been shown to support the immune system and improve health include:
- Vitamins, A, C, D and E, B vitamins, Zinc, Selenium and Probiotics.
Physical Activity for Health
Regular physical activity enhances the immune system and reduces the incidence of many chronic diseases, including viral and bacterial infections, as well as non-communicable diseases such as cancer and chronic inflammatory disorders. Exercise also releases endorphins that make us feel good, reduces anxiety and depression and improves brain function. With gyms and sports clubs closing many of us need to find new ways of staying physically active. Some of us may be starting to exercise for the first time. Whatever your circumstances it’s worth remembering that you’ll almost certainly feel better in your body, mind and spirit after a bout of physical activity.
Here are some tips to help you stay physically and mentally fit during lockdown:
On-line classes - there are lots of resources on line including yoga, pilates, and general fitness classes available for free.
Walking, running, cycling – if you are able to exercise outside of the home try to make it a good cardiovascular workout. Don’t overdo but breaking a sweat is a good aim.
Strength training – this is important for improving or maintaining muscle strength. The resistance can be provided by your own body weight, bands, weights or dumb bells. If you don’t have any equipment press ups, planks and squats are good for strength training or use a couple of cans of beans as weights.
Balance – being able to balance is an important part of physical health. Try standing up while putting your shoes and socks on or stand on one leg while chopping vegetables. For the more advanced try one legged squats.
Break it up – doing three 10 minute session of exercise over the course of the day may be easier than finding a 30 minute block of time and is just as beneficial.
Non-Exercise Physical Activity - doing tasks around the house and garden can count towards your daily exercise with many of the same benefits as formal exercise.
Food Shopping – instead of driving to buy your food walk or cycle instead.
Playing – whether you have children or not take this opportunity to play physical games.
Recovery – during rest between exercise sessions your body repairs and re-builds muscles. This is just as important as the exercise itself.
Stay Safe – don’t do anything risky. Build up your activity gradually. Listen to your body.
Lifestyle Habits for Health
Get Outside – exposure to daylight helps to reset the circadian rhythm and improves one’s state of mind. Getting some sunlight on bare skin is also a good way to up your vitamin D levels. Take care not to burn. Try to get outside everyday, if possible somewhere with greenery.
Be Social (from a distance) – social connection is important for mind, body and spirit. Of course, we can’t socialise like we used to but interactions don’t have to be face-to-face to be meaningful. We are lucky enough to live in a time when technology is available to most of us to help us stay connected with friends and family wherever they are in the world.
Sleep – During sleep the body has a chance to repair our cells, clear toxins and process information. Sleep also helps to regulate the immune system. Insufficient sleep can impact on many aspects of physical health and psychological well being. For good quality sleep make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark and not too warm. Avoid screens of all kinds for at least an hour before bed. Aim to go to bed and get up at a similar time each day.
Stress Management – Stress can have negative effects on every aspect of health. Whilst we can’t control everything that happens to us in life we can change how we deal with it. Try to see problems as opportunities for creative thinking. Relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises and meditation have been shown to reduce stress hormones and improve immune function.
Laughter – It’s true, laughing really can improve health and immune function. Go ahead and put on your favourite comedy show and have a good laugh.
Get Creative – now is a good time to get back to, or to take up, activities that put you in a state of flow. Examples include gardening, cooking, painting, drawing, puzzles, knitting, sewing, woodworking or playing a musical instrument.
Looking on the bright side, this period of lockdown could be an opportunity to begin healthy behaviours that become life long habits, that could improve your health in the short and long term.
Always consult your doctor before making dietary or lifestyle changes or taking any supplements, especially if you are pregnant or taking other medications.